I’m often asked how much research goes into writing historical fiction. The short answer is: A LOT. The next question is usually “It’s fiction. Can’t you just make it all up?” Well, I could, but then it wouldn’t exactly be historical.
Historical fiction, whether it’s a romance, a mystery, or a thriller, has to have some basis in fact. Sure, I invent the characters and the plot, but the historical parts should be as close to true as possible. FRONT PAGE MURDER is set in a small fictional town in Pennsylvania in May of 1942. Pittsburgh was a critical manufacturing hub during WWII so I decided Progress would be in that general area. Before the war, the fictional Tabor Ironworks had made parts for the automobile industry and when Roosevelt suspended car production, the factory converted to making parts for tanks and ships. Although Tabor only exists in my mind and on paper, the part about Roosevelt is true. Many industries converted to manufacturing materials for the war. Auto plants converted to making airplanes, tanks, and Jeeps. Shipbuilders, like Dravo and American Bridge in Pittsburgh, made warships and the all-important LSTs (Landing Ship Tank, or as soldiers like to call them Long Slow Targets). Without LSTs, there would have been no landing at Normandy.
Since my main character, Irene runs a newspaper, I had to get other facts straight. I downloaded a day-by-day timeline for the month of May 1942. Thank heavens for the internet! I also made good use of the online Google news archives where I could see actual newspapers for each day. I made headlines for the beginning of each chapter that would have appeared in Irene’s newspaper, the Progress Herald. If something big happened on a particular day, I made sure Irene talked about it with her co-workers.
Irene, her younger sister, and her mother often listened to the radio in the evening. I found a radio and movie guide online—sort of a precursor to the TV Guide. I was able to find exactly what radio show they would have listened to at a certain time. I also researched the popular songs and movies that were out in May 1942. I couldn’t very well have Irene’s sister listening to a Frank Sinatra record that hadn’t been released yet!
Rationing was another thing I had to research. Not everything was rationed at the same time. Rubber tires, automobiles, and sugar were some of the first to be rationed. People didn’t drive as much. If a driver blew a tire, there was no way to replace it. No new cars were being made. With the sugar ration, a family was only allowed a half-pound per person per week. It sounds like a lot of sugar, but it’s really not—a half-pound is barely a cup (I measured). Most people baked from scratch and there were no artificial sweeteners. If someone baked a cake and made a pitcher of lemonade, that would likely use the rations of two or more people in that household.
One thing I almost forgot to check was the weather. I only realized it when I’d finished the draft right before I sent it to my editor. Even though Progress isn’t a real place, I have it located near Pittsburgh. Some eagle-eyed reader would surely have noticed if I had written that it was sunny on May 20 instead of rainy. After doing some digging, I found weather charts for the area (thank you NOAA!) and was able to add some brief mentions of the weather. Whew!
Now I’m just waiting for someone to find something I missed. As hard as I’ve tried to get things right, it’s inevitable that I missed some little detail. Just do me a favor—don’t go looking for one!
A Homefront News Mystery: Book 1
Publication Date: March 8, 2022
In this World War II-era historical mystery series debut by Joyce St. Anthony, small-town editor Irene Ingram has a nose for news and an eye for clues.
Irene Ingram has written for her father’s newspaper, the Progress Herald, ever since she could grasp a pencil. Now she’s editor in chief, which doesn’t sit well with the men in the newsroom. But proving her journalistic bona fides is the least of Irene’s worries when crime reporter Moe Bauer, on the heels of a hot tip, turns up dead at the foot of his cellar stairs.
An accident? That’s what Police Chief Walt Turner thinks, and Irene is inclined to agree until she finds the note Moe discreetly left on her desk. He was on to a big story, he wrote. The robbery she’d assigned him to cover at Markowicz Hardware turned out to be something far more devious. A Jewish store owner in a small, provincial town, Sam Markowicz received a terrifying message from a stranger. Moe suspected that Sam is being threatened not only for who he is…but for what he knows.
Tenacious Irene senses there’s more to the Markowicz story, which she is all but certain led to Moe’s murder. When she’s not filling up column inches with the usual small-town fare—locals in uniform, victory gardens, and scrap drives—she and her best friend, scrappy secretary Peggy Reardon, search for clues. If they can find the killer, it’ll be a scoop to stop the presses. But if they can’t, Irene and Peggy may face an all-too-literal deadline.
Joyce was a police secretary for ten years and more than once envisioned the demise of certain co-workers, but settled on writing as a way to keep herself out of jail. As Joyce St. Anthony, she is the author of the Homefront News Mysteries. The first in the series, Front Page Murder, will be (or was, depending on the blog date) released on March 8, 2022. Under her own name–Joyce Tremel–she wrote the award winning Brewing Trouble cozy mystery series. She is a native Pittsburgher and lives in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania with her husband and two cats–Hops and Lager.
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